Alexandria During the Civil War

Some of you may have seen the PBS series "Mercy Street," which shows a Southern town occupied by the Union Army. While the show takes some license with the truth (some of which I talk about in blog posts--search on "Mercy Street"), that basic outline is true.

Despite earlier pro-Union leanings, the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina changed everything. Several states had already seceded, and Lincoln called for troops from those that remained. That was the final straw--Virginians would not take up arms against fellow Southerners and instead joined them.

On May 22, 1861, Alexandria voters (that is, the white males who had the franchise) voted overwhelmingly to secede, as did the rest of the Commonwealth of Virginia. That night, Union troops marched and boated into the city, which remained under military occupation throughout the war. 

The city became chock-a-block full with military troops and various Northern civilians looking for ways to either help or make some quick money. More than 30 hospitals were established, and their patient populations ebbed and flowed with the tides of battle.

Added to the mix: Blacks escaping slavery by coming across Union lines, called "contraband" (since they were indeed considered property belonging to the enemy) or freedmen. 

The Office of Historic Alexandria has compiled many articles, walking tours, first-person accounts, and other resources, many of which I used in my book or on my blog.